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What is “negligent referral?”

by | Jan 18, 2022 | Medical Malpractice

Your long-time, trusted physician referred you to a specialist to diagnose or treat an issue that was beyond their knowledge and training. You trusted that your doctor would only refer you to someone with a good reputation. However, that specialist misdiagnosed the problem, made an error or somehow mismanaged your case – causing you harm or worsening your condition. 

You’re pretty sure that you have a medical malpractice case against the specialist, but what about your referring doctor? Can you hold your doctor liable for a negligent referral? It depends.

How does the law define it?

Under the law, negligent referral means that a medical provider didn’t use proper care in referring a patient to someone else or in deciding whether they needed a referral. The first one can be a tough case to make. Did your doctor know (or should they have known) that the specialist they referred you to could provide a less-than-optimal outcome? 

Did they know, for example, that the doctor was facing multiple complaints or lawsuits for botched surgeries? Did they know that the doctor had a prescription drug addiction that was beginning to affect their judgment? Those situations could be grounds for a negligent referral action. Typically, however, a referring doctor can’t be held liable for the errors or negligence of the doctor they recommended to a patient.

Did your doctor try to treat you when they shouldn’t have?

The term “negligent referral,” as we noted, can also refer to a doctor’s failure to refer a patient to another physician – instead of trying to treat a condition or perform a procedure for which they aren’t qualified. Maybe a patient needs a spinal tap. The doctor hasn’t done one since their residency decades ago, but they’re confident they can handle it. If something goes wrong, that could potentially be considered a negligent referral.

Often, doctors will provide the names of several specialists rather than one or refer them to someone within their own health system to avoid potential liability. Even if your beloved family physician refers you to a specialist, it’s wise to do some research on them yourself. However, positive outcomes are never guaranteed in medicine. If you believe that your or a loved one’s harm was preventable, your best bet is to seek experienced legal advice.

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